Creative Producer Linh Phan is a Vietnamese-Canadian based in Ho Chi Minh City. The company here and her business partner started, Fact and Fiction Films, was a media production house that got her started in creating multimedia projects that have a sociological or health narrative woven throughout. She is also the co-winner of two International Public Engagement grants from the Wellcome Trust, UK, the 2nd highest funding body for health and science research in the world, after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“I came here to do TV work. I did a TV series with my brother, who’s been back [in Vietnam] since 1995,” Phan says. “I did some commercial work, and started a small production company with my friend. We focussed on community storytelling and ended up getting support from Oxford University. We had projects on everything: the research of malaria, dengue fever, perceived health risks, rodent catchers, farmers and intravenous drug users.”
Over the past four years, Phan has been in collaboration with The Oxford University Clinical Research Unit of Vietnam on various public engagement projects via digital media. Her aim is to help marginalised communities create films about their lives and health issues such concerning HIV, Zoonotic Diseases, and the ever-dangerous dengue fever and malaria. She has spoken at several International public engagement conferences, has run workshops on Digital Storytelling and facilitated discussions about producing and filmmaking.
Phan grew up in Toronto in an ethnically diverse neighbourhood where one could trace back as being quite the influence on her current work here in Vietnam.
“I didn’t have any Vietnamese friends growing up,” Phan says. “It was always other nationalities. Back in 1977 in Toronto I grew up in a very fortunate immigrant situation. We had multiple incomes and I always grew up with my entire family around. At the core my family was eight people and the neighborhood we were in was very diverse. A huge mixture of people and a very positive environment overall. Even in school we had multicultural days.
We’d learn about so many different cultures. My family moved to L.A. eventually, and I studied sociology and communications. I learned the film trade through volunteering. Then when I had the opportunity to come here to help on a TV show, I also saw it as an opportunity to dig into my roots. What I learned quickly was if you’re Viet Khieu and you don’t put the work in you will struggle.
With a passion for music all her life, soon after Phan landed in Saigon, she began to DJ and organise music events. She played a pivotal role in the development of underground music scene in Ho Chi Minh City, bringing in top international DJs like Bottin, Rodion, Trus’Me, and Voodoo Frank.
Her parties were featured in the Lonely Planet Guide to Vietnam and Southeast Asia as one of the “hippest club nights in Ho Chi Minh City”. She is an avid supporter of the creative community and frequently collaborates with other promoters and artists.
Phan is currently working on a whole slew of projects. She has development ideas and a host of plans for various media content.
She’s working on a project called My Stories, her own personal project exploring Vietnamese and refugee immigrant experiences through community-generated media.
What is most important to her projects and ideas is the process of building community but doing so with fun, engaging content that doesn’t always have to be serious in tone. Another project of hers is My Kitsch, which is focussed on exploring all the kitschy stuff that we were embarrassed of as children and that more often than not has turned into ironically hip stuff that people would love to have in their home.
Linh tells her own story about this phenomenon: “My grandfather’s lobster clock is a perfect example of this. It was a plastic gold-trimmed clock that played really loud music. It was an embarrassing thing that I now think is so funny. Whenever I talk about these kinds of stories, they could be Asian, Latin or whatever. Anybody that has been an immigrant or grew up in a mixed cultural neighbourhood has these stories.”
Phan is busy and has a lot of things working. I went to a talk she held at The Factory in Thao Dien. She spoke about her process with the multimedia development of video and storytelling with families and older generations that may have never worked behind or in front of a camera before.
There is an obvious difference between working with the older generations and the younger kids that have grown up with the internet.
“A lot of sites that are exploring these stories are more academic.” Phan tells me. “Myself, I’m a pop culture kid and I grew up in the 80s. Pre-internet. I have to see everything now in two-to-three minute clips in order to get the younger generation interested. Creating a platform that is geared to how young people consume content now.”
One thing is for sure whether it the older or younger generation: everyone is tired of war stories.
There are so many different experiences to be shared and so much variation in how to tell them that it’s time that everyone started to dig deep for their most creative expression to shine.
Vietnam is not only on the rise economically, but artistically and creatively as well.
Right now, Linh Phan is crowdfunding to push along her projects even further. There’s a lot of things to figure out as far as the specific process and ethical concerns surrounding the production of the material.
These bigger projects she is taking on are needing way more resources to produce and she is eyeing international funding.
Perhaps most encouraging in all of this is how much Ho Chi Minh City’s government has been supportive of these projects. The government gets it, and one of the big successes Phan was after she helped the city train a team to operate like her former media company did, the government created and started their own program.
That’s exciting progress.